Child protection legislation in Pakistan is plentiful, complicated and ineffective. There isn’t one single legal definition for the age of a child set by the Federal Government and agreed upon by the Provinces in various child protection laws. This is despite Pakistan’s ratification of international conventions such as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the International Labour Organisation’s Minimum Age Convention. Both instruments define a child as being below 18. Pakistan is also signatory to international treaties that highlight hazardous forms of labour unsuitable for children below the age of 14 or 15, yet children are employed in hazardous occupations nation-wide. Children are granted the right to a free and compulsory education under Article 25A of the constitution, but this is again more in letter than in spirit.
Although current child protection legislation is constitutionally valid, it is pathetically enforced. At the national level, neither a single national child protection helpline and nor a single database of child abusers exists. At the Provincial levels there is no child protection unit within the police force. The Sindh Child Protection helpline 1121 is unresponsive. The Sindh Assembly passed the Sindh Child Protection Authority Act in 2011, legislating into existence Child Protection Units (CPUs) province-wide at the district level. The 29 CPUs established lack manpower, infrastructure and funding. They do not afford shelter to vulnerable children trapped in situations of abuse. It is unclear what these CPUs have achieved since inception. In response to an RTI submitted by PILAP, neither the Sindh Child Protection Authority nor the Sindh Welfare Department were able to provide satisfactory answers to questions about child protection measures in the Province.
As is more than apparent from the barrage of news on crimes against children in the country, child abuse remains excessively rampant, child labour common, and despite legislation against the same, the reality of the state of children is far different than well-intentioned legislation.
Within Sindh specifically, there is no Government-run children’s shelter to house children removed from situations of abuse or neglect. Street children, abused domestic workers, children removed from forced marriages or those facing abuse within their homes cannot be housed safely by the Sindh Government. Construction of a Children’s Protection Center in Korangi has been pending since 2011. In response to an RTI submitted by PILAP, the Child Protection Authority and Sindh Welfare Department informed us that Rs. 265 million had been spent on the project since 2018 alone.
In Sindh, there are two main issues that PILAP is seeking to redress: (i) the eternally pending construction of the Children’s Protection Shelter in Korangi, and (ii) the existence of Child Protection Units (CPU’s) across Sindh, maintained by the Sindh Child Protection Authority (SCPA), which have achieved no milestones, and executed no programs to bring more children under their protection. PILAP has submitted Right to Information requests to the Sindh Social Welfare Department, the Provincial Commission for Child Welfare and Development and the Sindh Child Protection Authority, all housed within the Sindh Chief Minister’s Secretariat.
The responses received from the SCPA and SSWD circumvent the highlighted issues and give answers which are vague, at best. The Sindh Social Welfare Department provides no specific reason for pending project completion on the Children’s Protection Shelter in Korangi, aside from “financial and technical” issues There is no budget breakdown of the project, only the spending of the previous 3 years is mentioned. Neither is there a projected completion timeline.
The Child Protection Units (CPUs) established under the Sindh Child Protection Authority Act 2011 have had no impact milestones to report since establishment. The Sindh Child Protection Authority’s pallid response to our RTI requesting progress on child protection highlights SOPs drafted in collaboration with UNICEF and little else. No evidence of implementation of SOPs or demonstration of impact is highlighted. No evidence shown of the number of children rescued from abusive situations, even though news reports clearly highlight numerous instances of child abuse hailing from within Sindh.
In effect, Sindh’s child protection services are defunct. The Province affords no shelter, no helpline, no child protection officers. PILAP will continue to advocate for child protection services in the Province and across the country.